Updated 9:17 a.m. Friday
An outspoken Chicago pastor connected Republicans to the Ku Klux Klan and suggested that GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner stands for “evil,” as he appeared next to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday to give the Democrat his endorsement.
The governor remained silent as the Rev. Walter “Slim” Coleman, a long-time left-wing activist, spoke at his side during a press event where Quinn accepted the endorsement of several mostly African-American clergy members.
When Coleman took the lectern, he talked about the importance of registering voters to support Quinn, especially “unlikely voters” who may feel isolated from the political process.
But as his voice rose in a crescendo and the audience began to cheer, Coleman also warned against another type of unlikely voter.
“That’s an unlikely voter that began way back in 1961 and ’62 with the Ku Klux Klan, that grew up through the militias, that came outta the militias and, and, and – came in to call themselves conservatives, and then came in to call themselves Republican,” Coleman said.
“That’s a movement that brings an evil that we have got to stop,” Coleman said, as the crowd began to clap. “Our fight – our fight is not – our fight is not with flesh and blood. Our fight is with powers and principalities. And there’s an evil – there’s an evil that a candidate may seem that he’s harmless is gonna raise up in this state and we’re not gonna let it happen!”
Shortly after speeches concluded, Quinn disappeared out the back door of the Chicago Lakeshore Hotel, where the endorsement event was held, without taking questions from reporters. Following inquiries from WBEZ, the governor’s re-election campaign sought to distance itself from Coleman’s comments on Thursday.
Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told WBEZ that Coleman was invited to speak at the event by another minister, not by the campaign. In a statement Anderson said the governor does not support Coleman’s statements.
“We couldn't disagree more strongly, and the Governor believes this rhetoric has no place in politics,” Anderson wrote in an email.
A spokesman for Bruce Rauner’s campaign declined to comment.
Reached by phone after Thursday’s event, Coleman told WBEZ he does not believe Rauner is evil. He said he was referring instead to the “hatred and prejudice and white supremacy” he believes are represented by the conservative Tea Party movement, which he said gets political cover from the GOP.
“We’re not suggesting that Rauner is a member of the Klan or that there were any Klansmen involved in his campaign or anything like that,” Coleman said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “We were just saying that the forces that are unleashed by the - the current day Republican Party are very dangerous forces and very racist forces, and that we don’t want them to take over in Illinois.”
Coleman made headlines in 2006 when he offered sanctuary in his Adalberto United Methodist Church to Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant who was trying to avoid being deported by U.S. immigration authorities.
In an emailed statement Friday morning, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider blasted the Quinn camp's response to the incident.
"It is unacceptable and outrageous for a sitting governor to stand by silently and condone comparisons to the Ku Klux Klan," Schneider said. "Governor Quinn owes the people of Illinois an explanation for why he stood by and said nothing."